Written by Josh Veal for REVUE West Michigan

Tucked safely between the peninsulas, Beaver Island is a singular place, untethered from time and unburdened by the mainland’s concerns.

When we traveled there with Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien of Long Road Distillers to scout for juniper berries, it felt like entering another world. It’s a place where the cars are purely functional, running just well enough to move you through the heavily wooded, unpaved roads. A place where you wave, to everyone, always.

But most importantly, it’s a place with rich history and an incredible sense of community, which is crucial to Long Road’s MICHIGIN, a spirit made entirely with Michigan ingredients.

“We joke about getting a place on the island because we feel like we go there so often now,” Van Strien said. “We’re still outsiders coming in, but we definitely feel welcomed by the majority of folks we come in contact with. We always have someone we can call.”

That much was clear from our first trip to the market. Van Strien knew practically everyone there, including the owner, and all of them knew others he could contact. Without the island’s residents, MICHIGIN wouldn’t be possible.

Juniper “berries” are the crux of a good gin, and they only grow in the wild. The small blue orbs are actually cones that lend the spirit its strong pine flavor. Theoretically, if you wanted to simply drive around the countryside and start picking, you could do that, but you’d never know whose property you’re on.

On Beaver Island, however, juniper runs rampant and Long Road’s network of contacts makes it easy to figure out who owns what. We drove around looking for thick patches in the confirmed you-won’t-get-shot areas as Van Strien dropped pins on a robust GPS app. The following week, they would return with staff in tow.

The actual act of picking the berries is a far cry from visiting the orchard with your mom — Long Road’s staff gathered hundreds of pounds over the course of 15 hours, split between two days. The entire process is hard work from beginning to end, which Van Strien fully appreciates. He said it’s much easier to make an all-Michigan whiskey or vodka.

Gin also means sourcing other botanicals locally, such as mint. This year, Long Road also added white pine, foraged from Byron Center Farm, which should dry out the finish a bit and bring the pine flavor up front. The new batch is on shelves now.

All that hard work comes through in the finished products. MICHIGIN has won plenty of awards, including Revue’s own Best of the West readers poll. And in a way, getting to spend any time at all on Beaver Island is a reward of its own.

“It’s so beautiful,” Van Strien said. “It’s one of the coolest places you can visit in the state.”

Long Road Distillers


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Long Road Distillers will release Batch No. 3 of their award-winning MICHIGIN® on Monday, November 12 when their doors open at 4 pm.

The gin was crafted from 100% Michigan ingredients, starting with water fresh from Lake Michigan, red winter wheat from Heffron Farms in Belding, and juniper harvested by hand on Beaver Island.

“The making of MICHIGIN® has become so much a part of who we are” says Jon O’Connor, co-owner and co-founder of Long Road. “The adventure of crafting this product from scratch is the epitome of what we’re all about at Long Road – creating products that are world-class and doing it the right way, all while using locally sourced ingredients.”

In 2017, MICHIGIN® was named the “Best Gin in the World” and awarded a Double Gold Medal at the Fifty Best Competition in New York City. Ever since, the Michigan-made spirit has been highly sought after and one of the distillery’s most popular products. Each batch is eagerly anticipated not only by visitors of the distillery, but by retailers and bars throughout Michigan.

On Monday, November 12, the distillery is hosting a MICHIGIN® Release Party to celebrate the new batch. From 4 pm to midnight, guests will be able to enjoy 50% off gin cocktails and have their first opportunity to purchase bottles of Long Road MICHIGIN® Batch No. 3 to take home.

STORY BY CHAZ PARKS | 269 MagazineThe perfect cocktail is a beautiful thing.


It can be a refreshing gin drink on a Michigan summer’s day or a bold bourbon concoction that warms you as winter rolls in. That’s why it may not come as a surprise that craft distilleries across the country grew by nearly 20 percent in 2017, with over 50 of them calling Michigan home. Craft spirits are on the rise, and they are altering the state of cocktails.

“The craft spirits industry has seen tremendous growth over the past couple of years,” says James Loughmiller, Spirits Category Manager at Imperial Beverage. “Michigan alone has been making strides, producing some of the highest quality spirits in the nation. We are usually known as a craft beer state, but recently spirits have started to take hold, and we are seeing a surge of new distillers open throughout the state with a dedication to craft and quality. The craft segment of the spirits category is growing at a rapid pace, and we don’t see it slowing down anytime soon,” Loughmiller confirms.

A shining example of this craft movement comes right from west Michigan. Long Road Distillers has been producing high-end craft spirits since 2015. It is located on Grand Rapids’ west side and has created a stunning home by dedicating their craft to the community that surrounds them. Both co-founders Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien reside on the west side.

“We both have deep roots on the west side of the city, so it was a no-brainer for us to develop this project here. We wanted to give back to the community and make this a shared space with the people that support us. It’s been amazing watching the area thrive over the past three years,” says Van Strien, co-founder of Long Road Distillers.

Southwest Michigan is home to an array of local distillers, from Green Door Distilling in Kalamazoo to Bier Distillery in Comstock Park, and the craft spirits game has exceeded expectations helping to grow the Michigan economy. Operating locally has positively affected the restaurant and retail industry as well as resident farmers who are seeing the boost in their own economic benefits from this new flourishing industry.

Rows of wheat don’t usually come to mind as your bartender makes your Michigan Mule but, when you put quality over everything, it is a must. Utilizing the freshest grain Michigan has to offer, Long Road puts an emphasis on locally sourced agriculture whenever possible. Red winter wheat, for example, is a staple ingredient for the distillery. Long Road utilizes the wheat in several of its products. It is sourced from Heffron Farms in Belding, Michigan, just 25 miles from the distillery.

“It’s in our name. We wanted to make the best locally-sourced product we could with no shortcuts. From our grain to the malt to even the fruit we use for our seasonal limited releases, it all comes from local farms. When we set out to build the distillery, our main objectives were to one, produce world-class, quality spirts that were world-renowned, and two, locally source every ingredient it takes to make those spirits,” Van Strien explains.

Kalamazoo-based Imperial Beverage is fairly new to spirits distribution. Obtaining its ADA (Authorized Distribution Agents) certification in the spring of 2017, its portfolio has grown into a craft-centric powerhouse. Long Road was recently added to that ever-evolving portfolio, making the distiller’s products available statewide for all connoisseurs of locally-sourced spirits in Michigan to enjoy.

“Working with Long Road has been an absolute pleasure,” says Loughmiller. “Its commitment to sourcing ingredients, not spirits, and its dedication to utilize as many local ingredients and farms as possible sets it apart from your everyday distillery. The team there is dedicated, hardworking and goes above and beyond to produce its products. Jon and Kyle have been instrumental in helping our team understand spirits and how to go to market with them. They are truly great partners and friends!”

The results have been worthy of celebration. Long Road has seen early success with the transition to Imperial Beverage, achieving a growth in sales since making the move in spring of this year. The sales team at Imperial works hard to ensure that Long Road products are widely available across the state and is committed to getting their craft into your glass.

Chaz Parks is Donations and Special Events Coordinator at Imperial Beverage, a long-standing member of the Michigan beverage distribution community. Established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition and purchased by Kalamazoo’s Cekola family in 1984, Imperial has grown from a one county beer distributor to a top 10 statewide beer, wine & spirits wholesaler. With 330 employees and four locations in Kalamazoo, Livonia, Ishpeming, and Traverse City, Imperial provides statewide coverage that serves every Michigan County, every week, all year long.


Long Road Distillers Fall Cocktail Recipe

Make it at home!

2 ounces Long Road Distillers Rye Whisky
0.5 ounces Long Road Distillers Nocino Walnut Liqueur
0.5 ounces Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Bitters


By: eightWest staffPosted: Nov 05, 2018

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Cocktail week is almost here, we’re so excited to try what’s new we’ve invited our friends from Experience Grand Rapids and Long Road Distillers in to tell us more.

Cocktail Week GR 2018
Specialty Cocktails & Events around Grand Rapids
November 7-18
Visit CocktailWeekGR.com


The Cheers! cocktail this week comes with lots of flavor, but none of it from the alcohol in the drink.

“For me, cocktails are all about the interplay of flavor,” said Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings.

Vodka brings nothing to the glass as far as flavor is concerned.

It’s odorless, flavorless, and colorless.

“It’s meant to be very neutral and very smooth,” Tammy noted.

There’s an advantage if you have a drink that already has great flavors: vodka doesn’t interrupt the ingredients as they play off of each other.

This drink is called the Ramona. Tammy found it on the Internet years ago. If you look for it today, you’ll find ingredients with gin, white rum, tequila, and the other non-alcoholic ingredients might include grenadine and mint instead of this recipe. But, for fall, this Ramona is perfect.


5 sage leaves
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 1/2 oz vodka (we used Long Road Distillers vodka)
1 oz apple cider
1/2 oz simple syrup
Garnish: sage leaf

Muddle sage with lemon juice in shaker. Add remaining ingredients to shaker with ice. Shake, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish.

“It’s a fall drink that everyone can appreciate, even if they’re not a cocktail snob like me,” Tammy quipped.

by Connor Hansen Tuesday, October 30th 2018

BOYNE CITY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) — A Grand Rapids based distillery is expanding to northern Michigan.

Long Road Distillers is in the process of opening its first tasting room in Boyne City.

Its other location is its headquarters on the west side of Grand Rapids.

It will share space inside the Outdoor Beerdsman in downtown Boyne City.

There, you’ll be able to taste samples and purchase bottle and merchandise.

“Boyne City just made sense to us,” said Kyle VanStrien, a co-owner of the distillery. “It’s a great four seasons community. It’s a beautiful location, and people have an appreciation for farm to table anything, whether that’s their food or their beverages. So, we wanted to be a part of the community. We want to become great neighbors and a good part of the business community as well.”

Long Road sources all its ingredients locally.

The distillery plans to have its new tasting room open by the end of this year.

By Brian McVicar | bmcvicar@mlive.com | October 25, 2018

Northern Michigan residents will soon have a spot to sample the handcrafted vodkas, gins and whiskeys created by Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers.

The distillery plans to open a tasting room in Boyne City by the holiday season, said Kyle VanStrien, Long Road’s co-owner.

“It really helps us make a statement to the community that we want to be members,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors, and we want them to think of us when they are thinking of enjoying some Michigan craft spirits.”

The tasting room will be located at 118 Water Street, in Boyne City’s business district. Shoppers can sample Long Road products such as Michigin, created using botanicals from Michigan, including juniper that’s handpicked on Beaver Island.

Long Road’s products can be found at 1,100 stores and restaurants across the state, including at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor.

But having a tasting room gives the distillery an opportunity to further build its name recognition, VanStrien said, adding that Boyne City is a prime location for doing so because it draws a steady stream of visitors to nearby ski hills, lakes and state parks.

“It’s almost a captive audience for us year-round,” he said. “To be able to tap into that four-seasons market is great.”

The tasting room is geared toward retail sales. There are samples available, but full pours are not permitted.

Long Road Distillers

Long Road Distillers Announces New Honors from Seattle International Spirits Competition

Grand Rapids distillery awarded 6 new medals, including 2 Double Golds, for locally made spirits.

Seattle, WA – Grand Rapids-based Long Road Distillers has announced a handful of new honors for their line of locally crafted spirits, including top honors for two of their products. At the Seattle International Spirits Competition, held earlier this month, Long Road Raspberry Liqueur and Long Road Original Aquavit were awarded Double Gold Medals. Other awarded spirits were Long Road Gin (Gold), Long Road Wheat Whisky (Gold), Long Road MICHIGIN (Silver), and Long Road Old Aquavit (Silver).

Hundreds of spirits from around the world were entered into the competition from regional, national and international producers. The double-blind competition was based on a 100-point scale with the goal of recognizing and celebrating world-class spirits with consumers, enthusiasts and industry professionals. Samples were evaluated in category flights and scored individually, with judges casting their votes for Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze for each qualifying category.

“We’re extremely excited to receive this recognition for our portfolio of spirits, but especially eager to share the accolades for our Raspberry Liqueur,” said Jon O’Connor, co-owner and co-founder of Long Road Distillers. “This is the first opportunity we’ve had to enter it into competition. Taking home a Double Gold certainly re-affirms our decision to begin crafting this line of seasonal spirits with West Michigan-grown agriculture.”

Long Road Raspberry Liqueur was made with raspberries grown by DeLange’s Redberry Farm in nearby Hudsonville, MI. It is the first in a line-up of seasonal liqueurs the distillery is releasing this summer. Long Road Cherry Liqueur and Blueberry Liqueur will be released in the coming months, followed by their popular Nocino in the fall.

“We’re fortunate to find ourselves in the epicenter of some of the world’s best agriculture,” said Kyle VanStrien, co-owner and co-founder of Long Road. “It only makes sense for us to utilize and highlight the ingredients we have just miles from the distillery. We look forward to continuing our work with local farmers to bring the West Michigan flavors we love so much to other parts of the state and beyond!”

Long Road’s line-up of internationally recognized spirits is available for purchase at the distillery on Grand Rapids’ west side, and at over 900 specialty retailers, bars, and restaurants throughout the state of Michigan. To find a retailer near you, visit www.longroaddistillers.com/spirits-finder/


About Long Road Distillers:

Long Road Distillers was born from the belief that making world-class spirits means never taking shortcuts along the way. After becoming the first craft distillery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Long Road Distillers formed relationships with local farmers to bring that mission to Grand Rapids’ West Side neighborhood. Each spirit produced at Long Road Distillers is milled from locally sourced ingredients, fermented, and distilled on-site. The result is an uncompromised lineup of spirits including Vodka, Gin, Whisky and more. Their spirits, along with a handcrafted collection of cocktails and a wide variety of food can be enjoyed at their tasting room on Leonard Street. www.LongRoadDistillers.com

About the Seattle International Spirits Competition:

The Seattle International Spirits Competition is the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most comprehensive distilled spirits and liqueurs awards program. It brings together distilled products from local, regional, national and international producers to recognize and celebrate world-class spirits with consumers, enthusiasts and industry professionals. The Third Annual Seattle International Spirits Competition was held at The Swedish Club in Seattle, WA.

Long Road Distillers

In Part 4 of our “What is Bourbon” series, we dig into the final requirement for a spirit to be considered bourbon – the aging process – and how that can impact not only how a bourbon tastes, but also how it is labeled.

First, as a bit of a refresher, recall that the legal definition of bourbon whisky, according to the TTB, is:

Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.


For those new to whisk(e)y or unfamiliar with the process, it’s often a surprise that it all comes off the still clear. It’s only through the aging process in a barrel that the spirit gains it’s familiar caramel or amber colors. The barrel also contributes many of the flavors and aromas we’ve come to expect from our favorite whiskies.

This portion of the definition really covers two details: the storage in a barrel and a limit on the alcohol by volume during said storage.

Before we jump into both details, it’s fair to ask: why is whisky barrel aged at all? The answer is a practical one. Back when whisky was first distilled, the best way to store and ship the finished product was in wooden casks. As we touched on in Part 1, Bourbon whisky, in particular, was shipped down the Ohio River to New Orleans in wooden barrels marked for Bourbon Street. Most spirits of the day would have been stored in barrels, but only over time did people realize the benefits of barrel aging.

American Oak must be used in the making of bourbon barrels. Oak has a unique physical and chemical nature that allows it to be manipulated into a barrel, but also has a tight enough grain that it will not leak while still allowing oxygen to move in and out of the spirit.

Beyond these physical characteristics, though, the oak offers three effects on an aging spirit:

  1. It adds to the taste and aroma of the spirit, such as vanillins, lactones, and wood sugars
  2. It acts as a filter, removing undesirable elements from the spirit such as sulfur compounds
  3. It converts unpleasant compounds, such as acetic acid, into more organoleptically desirable elements, like fruity esters


Essentially, the chemical breakdown of the wood sugars contributes flavors that are desirable, while the wood and char combine to contribute spice and toast characteristics.

The second half of this section relates to the proof/abv during the aging process. The Standards of Identity from the TTB requires that the spirit enter the barrel at no higher than 125 proof or 62.5% alcohol by volume. One reason for this is tradition. Early distillery equipment likely didn’t distill the spirit to a very high proof.

The second reason to maintain an upper limit on proof is to keep the level of extraction from getting too out of hand. If you’ve tasted a lot of whiskies, chances are that you’ve run across a whisky that was “over-extracted”. By this, we mean too oaky and on the verge of tasting like a stale cigarette. The higher the proof of the spirit in the barrel, the more quickly it will pull flavors from the barrel and the less time it will have to mellow out and interact with the char, providing the filtering effect.

The length of time the spirits rests in a barrel impacts the final characteristics, too. In general, the longer a spirits rests, the more mellow it will become. Nearly all whisky that is aged less than two years requires a statement of age on the label. This gets into some of the different indicators you can look for on a bottle of bourbon. For example:

Straight Bourbon – must be aged a minimum of two years.

Bottled in Bond Bourbon – must be aged a minimum of four years, distilled in a single season, and bottled at 100 proof.

Finally, the size of the barrel has an impact on the aging process, flavors, aromas and finish of a whisky as well. The smaller the barrel, the greater the surface area-to-volume ratio there is between the wood barrel and the resting whisky. In turn, the smaller the barrel, the faster the aging process and the more flavor will be pulled from the wood. Many start-up distilleries will use 5, 10, or 15 gallon barrels to age their first-release whiskies more quickly, versus opting for a traditional 53 gallon barrel. While this does speed up the process, a distiller also runs the risk of overextraction of tannins, oak, and undesirable flavors, without allowing time for mellowing.

For our Straight Bourbon Whisky, we have used 53 gallon Independent Stave Company (ISC) barrels with a #3 (medium) char and light toast. The whisky was aged for over 2 years, with other barrels still hanging out in the warehouse for a later release.

We’re excited to share this special release with you beginning at 4pm on Tuesday, April 10. Stay tuned for more information about finding it at bars, restaurants and retailers beginning in May!

Long Road Distillers

For Part 3 of our “What is Bourbon” series, we look at the ingredients that make bourbon bourbon. It may seem straight forward, but when you really dig into the Code of Federal Regulations (and the Beverage Alcohol Manual from the TTB, in particular), you learn there are 42 different “types” of whisky, all with different defining characteristics – but many that are VERY slight.

First, as a bit of a refresher, recall that the legal definition of bourbon whisky, according to the TTB, is:

Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.


So, why corn? The simplest answer is “corn is what was available”. When the early bourbon distillers of Kentucky began making whisky, corn was cheap and easy to come by. Once bourbon became popular, though, many people tried to pass their blended whisky or neutral spirits off as bourbon. To help guide the industry, the Federal government made several decisions around the end of the 19th century like the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 (to separate straight whiskies from blended whiskies) and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (that first regulated what could be called Bourbon). And in the 1909 “Decision on Whisky”, President Taft determined that Bourbon Whisky must be made from a majority corn. But, it wasn’t until the fall of Prohibition that the government finally laid out the Standard’s of Identity for Distilled Spirits (SIDS) – which is part of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Part 5 – a chapter we as distillers refer to nearly every day. First adopted in 1935, the SIDS is where we get the definition above and the mandate that bourbon must have not less than 51% corn in the mash bill.

Although corn must be the predominant ingredient in a bourbon’s mash bill (recipe), most bourbon contains two or three other grains as well. Wheat and Rye are often used as “flavoring” ingredients in bourbon, and Malted Barley almost always makes up a percentage of the mash bill to offer enzymes that aid in fermentation and flavor development. Wheated Bourbon is known to hold up better over long stretches in a barrel. Bourbon with heavier doses of rye in the mash bill will have a bit more spice characteristic. Once you know the 51% rule, you can more easily define other whiskies, too. Rye whisky must contain not less than 51% rye. Wheat whisky must contain 51% or more wheat. And so on.

As a new distillery with new equipment and lots of ideas about mash bills for our whisky, the Long Road team decided to offer a series of experimental whiskies that we call the Wayfarer’s Whisky Series. These whiskies were small batch (some as small as a single 30 gallon barrel) and span several different class/types of whiskies. Over the past few years, we’ve released Wheat Whisky, Rye Whisky, and Malt Whisky, all milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled 100% on-site from locally grown ingredients.

With our Bourbon, we wanted to try a few different mash bills to determine what we liked best and what we wanted to invest in heavily for decades to come. Our team landed on four unique mash bills:

    • 63% Yellow Corn
    • 17% Rye
    • 13% Red Winter Wheat
    • 7% Malted Barley
    • 81% Yellow Corn
    • 12% Rye
    • 7% Malted Barley
    • 65% Yellow Corn
    • 28% Red Winter Wheat
    • 7% Malted Barley
    • 81% Yellow Corn
    • 12% Red Winter Wheat
    • 7% Malted Barley

Each mash bill provided incredibly distinct flavor profiles, aromas, and finishes. The high wheat offered lots of vanilla, butterscotch, and caramel flavors. The high rye was more earthy with peppery spice notes.

After experimenting with these different mash bills, we scaled two of them to store in 53 gallon barrels for several years.

On Tuesday, April 10, we’ll be releasing the first batch of Long Road Straight Bourbon – the result of years of work, fine-tuning, and waiting.

At Long Road, we’re proud to use all Michigan-grown corn, wheat, rye and barley, and handcraft every one of our spirits from scratch on-site. By partnering with farmers like Denny Heffron (Heffron Farms, Belding, MI) and Byron Center-based Pilot Malt House, we are able to create spirits that have a sense of place – offering uniquely Michigan characteristics that you won’t get anywhere else.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of the “What is Bourbon” series: “…and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers,” where we’ll explain the barrel aging process and its purpose!  

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